Local News

Stilo Silences the Vote

February 29, 2012

By Michael Scerbo

As it stands now, Stilo, an Italian developer has managed to keep the residents of Tusayan from deciding their own fate. 

Unless a higher court overturns a ruling handed down February 28th, the planned May 15th election that would give the public a chance to vote on Stilo’s controversial land use plan is on ice, at least for now.

Rather than rely on the public to make the call Stilo decided to sue.  And even though the petitions to bring the measure to the ballot were certified in December, they waited to file the lawsuit until February 7th.

Stilo wants to build parking garages, three million square feet of commercial space, rv parks and resorts in Tusayan.

The plan is opposed by the Superintendent of the Grand Canyon national park, the Sierra Club, and the Havasupai Tribal Council. They fear the this land plan would scar the landscape and dry up water supplies that feed the springs that flow at the Grand Canyon and on the reservation.

The plan was approved by a Town Council whose members work for, or have business relationships with Stilo or its partners. The only exception was Councilman Bill Fitzgerald, who voted no on most of the development provisions.  Stilo recently complained to Fitzgerald’s employer because of his opposition to the land use plan.

In issuing the ruling, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Joseph Lodge seemed apologetic that he had to take away the public’s right to vote be he said technicalities and ambiguities in the state’s laws forced his hand.

The technicality centered on the way Citizens for Sustainable Growth filled out their organizational paperwork.  They checked off a box that noted “support” instead of “opposition.” Organizers argued that “support” was proper because the referenda petitions were circulated to support putting the Council decisions on the Stilo land use plans to a public vote. 

Stilo’s attorneys cried foul and that indicating “support” was misleading because the petition circulators opposed the Stilo land use plans.   Before ruling from the bench, Judge Lodge stated, “I am loathe to take an issue out of the hands of the voters. And when I got appointed, I told the Interview Committee I was not going to be an activist judge. But the statute says what the statute says. I don’t like it more than anyone else, but it says what it says.”

However the judge wasn’t buying Stilo’s claims that organizers tried to mislead the public, “I am not going to find that the filings were intentionally misleading.  But I will find that they did not comply with the statutes.”Citizens is appealing the ruling.